In honor of Israel’s Book Week, the popular Israeli newspaper Makor Rishon published results of a reader poll of the top 50 Hebrew books of all time. The poll was run via their weekend magazine (so hip it hurts) Motzash which means “Saturday night” in a slangy sort of way. The poll picked many books which, in my opinion, quite simply had to be on the list. But, as is the case with such polls, more recent titles seem to slip through to the top. I can’t help but think this is a case of recent literary memory winning over books read years ago. As always, “out of sight, out of mind”.
Regardless, this is an worthwhile list and many of the titles have been translated into English. For those interested in improving their Hebrew or becoming more familiar with the cultural context of Israeli life, try to read in Hebrew! If you are relatively fluent, keep a dictionary nearby and look up a few words here and there or use the context to help you and “lo yikre klum” as they say in Hebrew….nothing (bad) will happen!
A look at the top five:
First place is Our Holocaust by Amir Guttfreund. A prize winner, a mega-bestseller. Historical fiction which offers an inside look at how the holocaust touched (touches) so much of Israeli life.
Second place is Tale of Love & Darkness by Amos Oz. Bestseller translated into over 20 languages! Autobiographical, first published in 2002.
Third: Adjusting Sights by Haim Sabato. A bestselling game changer in Israeli literature as it is historical fiction/memoir written by a Rabbi. Gently weaves religious references and sources into the dramatic story of yeshiva students called up to fight in the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
Fourth: Uri by Esther Streit-Vertzel (this is a classic children’s title)
Fifth: “Guy Oni” – Valley of Strength (sounds much better in Hebrew). It has been translated into English by The Toby Press. Written by Shulamit Lapid (mother of Israel’s latest political star Yair Lapid), this title has become an Israeli classic telling the story of early Zionist pioneering through the journey of the young Fania. This was rare as women were often written out early Zionist history. Lapid has helped rectify this.